(Editor’s note: The following interview contains spoilers for both “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” and its post-credits, well, kind of scenes.)
Wondering why there isn’t a ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ post-credits scene? That’s because nothing they tried fit. “Hard to beat where we left off,” producer Phil Lord told IndieWire. However, there was one promising idea that was scrapped as a follow-up to an unfinished scene in the film. It involved Spot (Jason Schwartzman), the bizarre-looking nemesis who is all white with black specks that act as interdimensional portals.
According to Lord and producing partner Chris Miller, the first scene featured Spot hanging out at a Spidey villain bar but he can’t get a drink because no one will notice. “And then finally he steals the drink for himself and pours it down and it all comes out of his holes,” Lord said. “He IS the dumbest villain. A nice line that Chris wrote, though: “Trying to fill a hole in his heart with more holes.” Not a great method.
Schwartzman, however, was fascinated by his character’s bizarre existential crisis. “(Schwartzman) was really interested and curious about a person who is missing things,” Miller told IndieWire. “And he’s kind of down the same road as Miles Morales, he just took the darker road. He feels left out and alone and wants to be seen and appreciated like the rest of us.
However, after starting out as an inept villain who can’t even rob an ATM, Spot eventually becomes a serious threat to the Spider-Verse. He gains strength from a super collider and learns to control its portals. In the proposed tag after the credits, Spot returns to the villain bar as a tough guy, proudly sits in the coveted booth and sends off all the villains who previously made fun of him.
“It’s been one of my favorite things, to see this guy get picked on and then come back and, with just a whisper, demolish every person that comes at him,” Alan Hawkins, head of character animation, told IndieWire. “But you have to have both of those sequences for it to work.”
Hawkins was part of the 1,000-strong Sony Pictures Imageworks team that significantly raised the bar on the groundbreaking Academy Award-winning film “Into the Spider-Verse.” They’ve created a new set of tools to bring the more complex 2D stylization of comic art into 3D animation. Spot, being the more complex character, required many of them to get the different looks of him. They included a line art pipeline, brush tools, ink drip technology, and a non-photorealistic compositing tool to produce multiple types of edges at every point.
Spot evolves throughout the film, going from a rough drawing to a fully formed character, with linework tracing his shape and every drop of ink in his body looking and behaving differently.
“The whole thing with him was that it had to be no color, no rendering,” returning VFX supervisor Mike Lasker told IndieWire. “Basically, it’s like a drawing built from scratch. We tried to treat it as if it were a painting, ink washed when in shadow and white brushed paint when in light. And the commercials were first created in animation and then effects would replace them with more inky commercial techniques. As Spot grew in strength, you saw those inky spots get busier and busier and move and have more personality and detach from his body. Nothing was static, it was always in motion.
After scrapping an initial concept of a shape-shifting face that didn’t match the rest of his body, Hawkins and the animation team grouped and streamlined Spot’s design to improve his appearance and character message. This included changing the design of the commercials. “We went with just one spot on the face, which changes shape a couple of times,” Hawkins said. “Sometimes he shoots particles when he yells at Miles (Shameik Moore). But we really wanted to boil it down to the essence of him, which is just the nudity of his black and white design and the spots. And then use it to live within those boundaries.
The process of Spot learning to control his dots wasn’t always written into the scenes, so they focused on that during an early action sequence, where he accidentally learns how to launch a portal. “And then that way it makes sense when he throws them with more control later in the film,” Hawkins added. “So if he gets angry, they spin or move much faster.”
In the beginning, when Spot is out of control, he ends up in his own small pocket size without spots. So when he recreates a Collider and starts traveling from one dimension to another, he turns all black as the blobs reach his body, transforming into an abyss-like character.
“Often, we would explore (anarchist) biases,” Hawkins said. “But sometimes they went the wrong way and he ended up looking more like a creature than a person. It was important that he still be the person that he is, not like this mindless beast.”
For Lasker, Spot, in particular, provided an opportunity to test many more new techniques “with tool after tool after tool building up to him. But everything was layered with a lot of stuff and the artists had to learn how to use all these tools, which was a real testament to the artistry.”
A version of Sony Pictures Animation,“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is now in theaters.